New Anti-Gay Snake Oil for Religious Right

Focus on the Family can hardly contain its glee over a new study that purports to show that “children raised by homosexual parents are dramatically more likely than peers raised by married heterosexual parents to suffer from a host of social problems.”

Calling this study “the gold standard” of same-sex parenting studies, FoF’s affiliate CitizenLink crowed that among those “social problems” were “strong tendencies, as adults, to exhibit poor impulse control; suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide; need mental health therapy; identify themselves as homosexual; choose cohabitation; be unfaithful to partners; contract sexually transmitted diseases; be sexually molested; have lower income levels; drink to get drunk; and smoke tobacco and marijuana.”

Sounds horrifying, right? And this study is the “gold standard” because, “All the other studies that have come out on how kids do in same-sex homes are all done by lesbian activist scholars,” according to Focus’ Glenn Stanton.

He’s obviously referring to the longitudinal study of same-sex parents conducted by Nanette Gartrell, M.D., who, according to her bio, “is a 2012 Williams Institute Visiting Distinguished Scholar, UCLA School of Law, and she has a guest appointment at the University of Amsterdam. She was previously on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco.” Oh, and she has a female spouse, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Dee Mosbacher, M.D., Ph.D., with whom she has a 35-year long relationship.

Her research showed that children raised by lesbian parents “were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts …”

Being a lesbian, Gartrell obviously has a vested interest in those findings, right? Maybe, but her research has been backed up by the likes of the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Social Workers, “who all confirm that LGBT parents make good parents,” Freedom to  Marry reiterated.

No study is ever perfect, and Gartrell acknowledges limitations in her study, including the fact that the families who participated are a nonrandom sample. Such limitations were understandable in the 1980s when the study began since “ the targeted population was largely hidden because of the long history of discrimination against lesbian and gay people, so the possibility of recruiting a representative sample of prospective lesbian mothers was even more unrealistic than it is today.”

The researcher for the new study, Mark Regnerus, isn’t free from his own bias, however. As Freedom to Marry points out in a press release on the study, Regnerus,  ”is well known for his ultra-conservative ideology and the paper was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation – two groups commonly known for their support of conservative causes. The Witherspoon Institute also has ties to the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage, and ultra-conservative Catholic groups like Opus Dei.”

Among the flaws in Regnerus’ work, Freedom to Marry offers these examples:

It doesn’t even measure what it claims to be measuring. Most of the children examined in the paper were not being raised by parents in a committed same-sex relationship — whereas the other children in the study were being raised in two-parent homes with straight parents.

They also note: “The paper inappropriately compares children raised by two heterosexual parents for 18 years with children who experience family transitions — like foster care — or who live with single or divorced parents, or in blended families.”

Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin gets right to the point about the study’s fatal flaw: “The study compares the children of married biological parents with those from broken homes — and the study’s “lesbian mothers” that our opponents are vilifying generally weren’t married to each other; nor were the gay fathers. No, they were often in opposite-sex relationships that broke down.” In short, Regnerus used flawed research to reach his conclusion, while Gartrell went to the source — same-sex parents raising children, to reach her conclusions.

It’s no shock that the religious right would be touting a flawed study to shore up their battle against granting even the basic of human rights to LGBT people. A Gallup poll, published in May, revealed that their argument that homosexuality is somehow “immoral” is faltering with the public. The poll showed that 54% say gay or lesbian relationships are morally acceptable. Among Catholics, that number jumps to 66%. Protestants still lag behind, but 41% say gay and lesbian relationships are moral.

Resorting to pseudo-science is the last gasp of anti-gay groups and they will certainly tout this study, flaws and all, as proof that same-sex couples make awful parents and raise terribly troubled kids. Again, it’s no shock – the religious right wing is always quick to twist science to its liking – and they will still continue to quote Robert Spitzer’s study on “ex-gays” even though Spitzer has disavowed his study and apologized to the LGBT community.

The case being made against gays and lesbians by the religious right has always been a spurious one, based on religious bias, bad science and outright lies. This latest study is just more of the same.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)